Denialism blog

The latest science blog on the Seed platform is called Denialism. It is run by two people who, I deduce from their surname, are related: "Mark Hoofnagle is a MD/PhD Candidate in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics at the University of Virginia. His interest in denialism concerns the use of denialist tactics to confuse public understanding of scientific knowledge. Chris Hoofnagle is an attorney with experience in consumer protection advocacy in Washington and Sacramento. His interest in denialism concerns the use of rhetorical tactics by various industries in thwarting responsible public policy. He is the author of The Denialists’ Deck of Cards."

Here’s a link to one of their first Seed posts: denialism blog : Unified theory of the crank. The post begins with a quote from Nature (the journal for which I work):

A crank is defined as a man who cannot be turned.
Nature, 8 Nov 1906

It goes on: "Here at denialism blog, we’re very interested in what makes people cranks. Not only how one defines crankish behavior, but literally how people develop unreasonable attitudes about the world in the face of evidence to the contrary. Our definition of a crank, loosely, is a person who has unreasonable ideas about established science or facts that will not relent in defending their own, often laughable, version of the truth. Central to the crank is the "overvalued idea". That is some idea they’ve incorporated into their world view that they will not relinquish for any reason."

I can see we are going to have some sparks in future here, with AIDS denialists (as they are already called), climate sceptics, creationists and ID-ers, "anti-theory of relativity-ers", creators of perpetual motion machines, and all the others among the convinced. I look forward to it (I think). Clare will probably like it, too.

The Blood of Flowers

I was just mooching around Amazon, as you do, when I came across this "deal of the week":

"Set in seventeenth-century Iran, The Blood of Flowers is the powerful and haunting story of a young girl’s journey from innocence to adulthood. The novel begins in the 1620s in a remote village where the narrator (whose name, in the Iranian storytelling tradition, we are never to know) lives with her mother and rug-maker father. On the sudden death of her father our heroine and her mother fall upon hard times and are forced to travel to the bustling, beautiful, exotic city of Isfahan where relatives take them in. Everything is new: the grudging charity of her aunt, the encouragement of her uncle, one of the finest carpet-makers in the world, who begins to teach her his craft, the treacherous friendship of the daughter of rich neighbours. And there’s an adventure ahead which will introduce her to the sensual side of life as well as to the cruelty of betrayal and rejection before she finds her way to contentment and possibly, even, to happiness, in a world full of contrasts and dangers."

The book is on sale at £5.85 until Sunday night (list price £12.99), and Cathy is on for it. Also on offer this week are Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy ( "Get ready for the biggest NEW publishing phenomenon of 2007!" I shall say no more here)  also at £5.85 (list £12.99), and Decency and Disorder: The Age of Cant by Ben Wilson at £11.25 (list £50) :  "We all see the Victorians as a respectable, well-mannered and sober people, yet a generation before Queen Victoria ascended the throne, the British were notorious for their boisterous pastimes, plain-speaking and drunkenness. How was it that this free-spirited and pleasure-loving people embraced the kinds of values that we know as Victorian moralism? "Decency and Disorder" is about the generation who grew up during the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars. Acclaimed young historian Ben Wilson recreates their age, and some of its most exciting figures, in this landmark history book."

Melting pot or palette?

Jenny and Cathy have a "mufti" day at school on Friday: they don’t have to wear uniform in return for making a donation to charity. Hooray. But yesterday we learned that there is a theme of "other cultures", i.e. you can’t just wear your jeans and sneakers. Neither Cathy nor her form tutor are bothered by the stricture: most of the year 11s will be attending in the 16-year-old equivalent of jeans and sneakers whatever the theme and, with GCSEs looming, nobody in educational authority is going to say anything about it. 

For the year 7s (a.k.a. first years), though, this is a more serious matter. They were told by their form tutor that they could not just come in wearing "their English clothes". So the exercise turns into a logistical challenge for the parents, the kind of thing I thought we’d thankfully left behind with primary school. Back to the days of the mothers who go out to work guiltily nipping out to Thursday late-night shopping and coughing up for some outrageously priced piece of tat, while the less time-poor homekeeper mums run up an elegant outfit on the sewing machine while changing the baby and feeding the toddler.

But that aspect apart, I do query the whole exercise. Quite apart from the "no English" stricture not making much sense to any Scottish, Welsh and Irish girls in Jenny’s class (all countries with a decently identifiable national costume, unlike us vague English), the ethnically British are in a minority, as there are more girls of various non-UK ethnic origin in Jenny’s class than not — which seems to have passed the form tutor, or someone, by. So most of Jenny’s classmates will be wandering in wearing their saris, kimonos etc in true relaxed fashion, while the domestically challenged of Petrona towers are putting up "business as usual" signs, as our in-house stock of Harry Potter cloaks, age 6-sized Sleeping Beauty/Pocahontas dresses and various Hallowe’en costumes have been firmly nixed.

I just hope that whatever charity is benefiting from all this fully appreciates it. Next time, let’s bypass the costumes and siphon the extra cash straight into the recipient’s bank account.